Treatment we had: Hydrating Facial Treatment, $100.
What we loved: The spa has been open only since April 2008, so everything seems new and fresh. The changing area is beautiful—water in the sink flows over river stones. There are lovely extras, too: Every guest gets a robe and slippers, many treatments start with a foot bath, and my facial came with a terrific neck-and-shoulder massage. Because there’s no hair services, Blu Water has the soothing feel of a destination spa.
Before the facial, my aesthetician, Teresa, talked to me about what I wanted, looked at my face carefully, and modified the facial to deal with my “mature” but still oily-in-places skin. Afterward, I was encouraged to sit and enjoy herbal tea and fruit in the relaxation room. I walked out glowing, and my pores looked smaller the next day.
What you should know: There are facial “rituals” that have more to do with relaxation and rejuvenation and “treatments” geared to specific skin problems such as acne, hypersensitivity, and extreme dryness. There are also à la carte extras such as gel peels and microdermabrasion, which raise the price. Products and services are recommended, but there’s no pressure to purchase.
Bottom line: A terrific facial in an atmosphere much plusher and more serene than at most day spas. But be clear about the treatment you’re getting before you start so you’re not surprised by add-ons when presented with the bill.
Blu Water Day Spa, White Flint Plaza, 5234 Nicholson La., Kensington; 301-984-6245; bluwaterdayspa.com.
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Treatment we had: Classic Swedish massage, $100 for 50 minutes.
What we liked: A curved glass wall enclosing a stand of “bamboo” greets you at the entrance—the bamboo isn’t real but sets a stylish tone. With its soothing green walls and soft lighting, the Lorien has one of the prettiest spas we’ve seen.
The changing rooms are spotless and spacious, with big lockers, a steam room, showers, fluffy robes and comfortable flip-flops to wear, and a generous toiletry assortment that includes everything from shampoo to makeup remover.
The walls seem to be soundproof—the whole spa is wonderfully quiet. There’s a Zen-like relaxation room where you can sink into a comfy chair and help yourself to strawberry-infused water or terrific tea—we were partial to the coconut-scented white tea—and two kinds of snack mixes, including one with coconut shavings, walnuts, and cranberries. (One big complaint: There were no magazines—nothing at all to read—in the relaxation room.)
Another plus: Free valet parking.
What you should know: As at many hotel spas, prices are a tad steep. Our massage was good but wasn’t relaxing—the therapist dug into each knot with trigger-point therapy, and I was more sore than usual the next day. (I could have asked her to ease up but wanted the full experience for purposes of this review.)
As I left the massage room, the therapist was waiting—but not to ask me how I felt or offer me a glass of water. Instead, she handed me a product brochure with information about the massage oil—available for $34.25. The sell wasn’t hard, but it was odd.
Bottom line: One of the loveliest spas in the area, with first-class service. We visited right after it opened, and it may work out some kinks—such as the lack of magazines and the product push—to make the experience more perfect.
Lorien Hotel & Spa, 1600 King St., Alexandria; 703-894-3434; lorienhotelandspa.com.
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Treatment we had: One-hour therapeutic massage, $96.
What we liked: If you love massage but have found the skills of day-spa massage therapists often lacking, Rejuvenations may suit you better. All they do here is massage—there are eight therapists, all with impressive training. Online bios detail each therapist’s specialties.
When I mentioned to the receptionist, as I booked my appointment, that my neck was particularly stiff, she said: “You want Linda.” Indeed, Linda Libertucci spent a lot of time smoothing out the kinks in my neck and shoulders. Her strokes were those of a pro, and I felt great the next day.
What you should know: This is not a day spa, and it doesn’t bill itself as one. If you want a manicure with your massage, you’ll have to go elsewhere. Still, while there are no niceties like herbal tea, the decor is soothing, not clinical.
Bottom line: A great choice for those who are serious about massage.
Rejuvenations Massage Therapy, 297 Herndon Pkwy., Suite 302, Herndon; 703-437-9059; rejuvenationsmassagetherapy.com.
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Treatment we had: Classic manicure, $25.
What we loved: From the minute I walked into Amenity—with its enveloping, deep wall colors and trickling waterfall—I felt tension melt away. Every staffer was upbeat and friendly, and my manicure was expertly done—with instruments taken straight out of a sterilizer. The price at first seemed high, but I got more than expected, including a warm-paraffin dip. The manicure, billed as 20 minutes, took close to an hour—I didn’t feel rushed.
What you should know: Mai Lyn Edwards, the pro who did my manicure, was very chatty—but I didn’t mind because she was so enthusiastic about nail and skin care that I got good pointers.
Bottom line: A friendly, relaxing spa that’s also comfortable for men—the magazines in the lounge included the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and I saw several couples during my visit.
Amenity Day Spa, 44365 Premier Plaza, Suite 120, Ashburn; 703-726-8100; amenitydayspa.com.
Treatment we had: Hydrotherm massage, $120.
What we liked: The extras make this place: the foot soak in a quiet and low-lit waiting room, caring attention to any health concerns, soothing flute-and-waterfall music, a choice of scented oils. Once on the table, you lie on warm, water-filled rubber “pillows” that swish like a waterbed. You never turn over: The therapist reaches beneath to work out knots in back and shoulders. Morgan Nerad also massaged my scalp and each arm and leg thoroughly, with appropriate draping. She turned on a heat lamp when the room cooled and later started a shower for me to wash off.
What you should know: The shower is stocked with several Aveda products, but the stall was too dark to tell what they are. (We were later told the lighting is adjustable.) And no antiperspirant?
Bottom line: Good for those who dislike turning over during a massage. A different approach not special enough to justify the higher price—a basic massage is $95—but the all-around soothing atmosphere and foot soak make any visit worthwhile.
Elaj Aveda Day Spa, King Farm Village Center, 801 Pleasant Dr., Suite 110, Rockville; 301-977-1514; elajavedadayspa.com.
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Treatment we had: Island Pedicure, $30.
What we loved: Stepping into Sesen—an Eastern-inspired spa with Zen-like decor—I knew I’d booked the right treatment: Pedicure chairs and manicure stations line the front of the salon—a sign that the spa emphasizes its nail services. I was directed to a comfortable massaging chair where I rested my feet in warm bubbling water. My nail technician did a great job of removing calluses and shaping my nails. But it was the massage that sold me—a truly thorough foot-and-calf massage with tropical-scented lotion. When I mentioned that I often have foot pain, the therapist began kneading muscles in my calf, where, she said, the nerve endings hitting my feet began. Three days later, I was still pain-free and prettily polished.
What you should know: Sesen and its owner, Lisa Tep, have been featured on the Today show for the spa’s hygienic pedicures. A pipeless drain system ensures that no dirt or bacteria is left in the foot bowls, and equipment is sanitized in a medical-grade sterilizer.
Bottom line: An Asian-inspired spa with a dedication to cleanliness. Therapists are pleasant, and the service is professional.
Sesen Spa, 111 Church St., NW, Vienna; 703-281-0822; sesenspa.com.
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Treatment we had: “Aura”ssage, a massage combining deep-tissue, Swedish, and trigger-point therapies, $95 for 60 minutes.
What we loved: The spa, in DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood, is in the same building (the Metropole) as a hair salon (Bang) and gym (Vida Fitness). For those who live in the area, it’s a convenient one-stop spot for beauty and wellness.
What you should know: This is not a true day spa—there are no locker rooms in the spa (though you can use those at Vida), no lounge to chill in between treatments. It’s tiny—just four treatment rooms, a small waiting area, and a bathroom. And it’s not necessarily relaxing: Despite the soothing music played during my massage, I could hear thumping music from outside the spa as well as slamming doors and voices. The massage itself was fine, though not great.
Bottom line: If you live nearby or belong to Vida Fitness, Aura isn’t a bad spot for a quick service. But it’s probably not worth going out of your way.
Aura Spa, 1517 15th St., NW; 202-588-5557; vidafitness.com/auraspa.php. Aura Spa also has locations in the Renaissance Hotel on Ninth Street in DC.
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Treatment we had: The Sphynx, a Brazilian bikini wax, $65.
What we loved: This bright Clarendon shop is owned by, you guessed it, three sisters—Arlie Morgan, Abby Hayes, and Alexandra Fisher. Two of the three do waxing; the other mans the front desk and retail area, which offers everything from barely-there negligees to cozy weekend pajamas.
I’ve become a regular of Arlie, a pleasant, friendly aesthetician who always remembers what’s going on in the lives of her clients. Her waxing is the most pain-free of any I’ve found, and the job is quite thorough. Appointments can usually be booked just a day or two in advance, sometimes on the same day. If you’re looking to really surprise your significant other, ask the sisters to craft a Crystal de Clarendon during your bikini wax—a crystal tattoo placed using nontoxic surgical glue. It lasts only a few days—but the memory may last a lifetime.
What you should know: Don’t expect a spa—there’s only one waxing room plus a small curtained area for eyebrows. The waiting area, a small bench in back, has a current selection of magazines to peruse, but I’ve never had to wait. If you become a regular, for every two new clients you refer, you’ll get a free service.
Bottom line: Best waxing I’ve found, hands down.
Sisters3, 2729 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-3333; shopsisters3.com.
Treatment we had: Facial, $60.
What we loved: Monique Fournay Campion rubbed scented cream into my elbows, hands, and fingers, then slipped my gloved hands into warm mitts. She cleansed my face twice, did a scented shoulders/neck/back massage, used a sleek steam machine on my face, and did extractions by hand. A vitamin-A cream before and after downtime in a heated recliner led to total relaxation.
What you should know: Campion is a one-woman home-based operation just south of Rockville Town Center. She can be hard to reach but updates her phone message daily. The facial/massage room is warm and cozy.
Bottom line: The $60, no-tip facial is a bargain, and the friendly, soothing proprietor is a bonus.
Monique’s Esthetique, 304 Winding Rose Dr., Rockville; 301-340-2337.
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Treatment we had: One-hour European facial with salicylic-acid peel, $150.
What we liked: Want an expert skin consultation but find a dermatologist’s office or med spa sterile? Consider a facial at Toka.
When I called to book an appointment, I asked if I had to choose a specific facial from its menu. I was told the aesthetician would determine which facial I needed. Sure enough, at the start of my visit, Linda Hardiman, the aesthetician, spent more than ten minutes determining what my face needed—by asking questions and examining my skin—before beginning steam, extractions, and ultimately a salicylic-acid peel for my clogged pores. The peel burned, as peels usually do, but a thorough shoulder-and-neck massage melted away the pain.
What you should know: This is not a day spa; it’s a salon with spa services. The treatment room I was in was little more than a closet, but the bed is heated and the room is clean and spacious enough for the therapist to move around.
Bottom line: The treatment was professionally done, and it worked—my skin, although blotchy where extractions were performed, cleared within the week.
Toka Salon & Day Spa, 3251 Prospect St., NW, Suite 19; 202-333-5133; 801 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 202-628-5133; tokasalon.com.
Treatment we had: Hot-stone massage (an hour and a quarter), $125.
What we loved: Massages by Chris Swingler, an experienced therapist—she’s been at Bella Donna for 13 years—who’s also an Air Force veteran.
My hot-stone massage, which included Swedish technique, was done with hot and cold oiled stones, which were used at pressure points and placed between toes and fingers. Periodically, Chris would help me sit up to sip cool water, which she said would help flush out toxins. At the end of the hour, I was in a trance-like state and the most relaxed I’d felt in months. Subsequent deep-tissue massages with Chris were just as wonderful—my muscles felt loose for up to a week afterward.
What you should know: You can sign up for e-mail specials, which advertise last-minute deals, free giveaways, and promotions such as acupuncture happy hours, where sessions are free or deeply discounted.
Bottom line: Don’t expect a luxurious day spa—it’s next to a strip mall. But the rooms are quiet, clean, and well equipped. And it’s the best massage I’ve had in this area. A regular one-hour Swedish massage, without hot stones, is $85.
Bella Donna Spa, 7025-H Manchester Blvd., Alexandria (Kingstowne); 703-313-7945; belladonnaspa.net.
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Treatment we had: The Moroccan, $160.
What we loved: I wasn’t expecting great things from a spa located in the same shopping center as a Kmart, but one of the signature treatments—the Moroccan, a body-scrub/facial combo—sounded ideal for my winter skin.
It’s billed as being ideal for friends or couples, done in a room said to be big enough for two. But I found the room pretty small—because I’d booked the treatment just for me, a curtain closed off the other half of the room. The room was painted with murals that were a tad cheesy.
Still, the bed was clean and warm, and my therapist, Kimberly Brunson, immediately put me at ease as we discussed the best places to bargain-shop in the area. She began by cleansing my body with black soap, followed by a hot-oil scrub, which felt like a relaxing back scratch. The best part of the treatment was a facial with a pumpkin-scented mask. For days afterward, my skin glowed.
What you should know: This spa is nothing to look at—the decor is a bit cheesy and outdated, and the rooms are often cramped.
Bottom line: If you live nearby and would like a facial, ask for the owner, Kimberly, a knowledgeable aesthetician. But don’t expect a posh place, and we wouldn’t recommend a special trip.
K Spa, 7295 Commerce St., Springfield; 703-644-9525; k-spa.com.
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Treatment we had: 50-minute couples massage, $120 a person.
What we loved: A 45-minute drive from DC, this is a true destination spa where everything is top-notch. The staff is attentive; marble-adorned changing areas include sauna, steam, whirlpools, showers, and fluffy robes.
I had dragged along my boyfriend, who’d never been to a spa, promising relaxation and nothing too girly. He emerged after a half hour later in the men’s changing area and pronounced the experience already better than he’d expected.
We were escorted to a couples lounge, which featured an assortment of teas, blankets, and magazines. Separate lounge areas are also available for men and women. The couples treatment room was spacious, with soft lighting for a romantic glow.
As the massages progressed, my therapist worked out kinks in my neck and shoulders that felt as though they’d been there for years—kneading muscles almost to the point of pain but providing much-needed relief. My only complaint: When my boyfriend was asked to turn on his back, my therapist seemed to rush so that we could finish our treatments at the same time. Next time, I’ll book individual massages. But I can’t fault the result—I was loose and relaxed for days after.
What you should know: The treatments are expensive, but regulars can sign up for a “reward membership”; referrals, repeat treatments, and product purchases all earn points leading to discounts.
Bottom line: If you want a first-rate resort-spa experience without traveling far, this is it.
Spa Minérale, Lansdowne Resort, 44050 Woodridge Pkwy., Lansdowne; 703-729-4036; spaminerale.com.
Treatment we had: Signature Pedicure, $70.
What we liked: The staff was professionally pleasant—I overheard regulars chatting about their kids and their lives. The pedicure chairs, which are reclining club chairs, were comfortable—but don’t expect heated or massage seats, as some spas have. There’s no whirlpool bath for your feet, either, although glass marbles in the portable basin were a nice touch. There was a good selection of refreshments, including pomegranate iced tea and cucumber water—although I had to help myself when no one offered me anything. No one offered to take my coat, either—I was told to just throw it over a chair.
What you should know: The pedicure itself was just okay—with minimal attention paid to shaping nails or pumicing rough spots. My technician was a bit rough and overzealous—an area she trimmed around the nail on one big toe hurt the next day.
I couldn’t help feeling the spa itself needed a makeover. The amenities are dated—such as the tiny portable fan used to dry my polish.
Bottom line: This is a popular spot for pedicures—there are 15 stations. Maybe my expectations were too high: For $70, twice the price of many spa pedicures, I wanted twice the treatment. I didn’t get it.
Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, 5225 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 202-362-9890; reddoorspas.com.
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Treatment we had: Brazilian bikini wax, $65.
What we loved: This Old Town spa, in a refurbished yellow-lemon row house, has a cozy atmosphere you can’t help but love. Comfortable chairs in the waiting area are a nice spot to sip a cup of tea—in ceramic mugs with saucers—or cucumber-infused water before a treatment.
In previous reviews of this spa done by The Washingtonian, the facials here were highly recommended. Owner Suzanne Olsen is an expert with skin.
But this spa does more than facials. I had booked a Brazilian—the true test of any waxer’s skills. While it wasn’t the most pain-free I’ve had, Angela Hall, my technician, used a mix of hard and soft wax to remove as much hair as possible. After waxing, she did a thorough tweezing of stray hairs—something many aestheticians overlook.
What you should know: The waxing wasn’t perfect. Twice, I had to remind Angela that the wax was too hot and nearly burning my skin. It’s something that a few more years of experience may cure—she admitted to having worked as an aesthetician for only two years. But after the treatment, she met me outside the room with a glass of cool water, something rarely done when just having waxing.
Bottom line: For those who live in the area, this is a friendly spa for a facial, massage, or underarm or leg waxing. The best part? Daily e-mail specials—you can sign up at the front desk—offer 15 to 25 percent off a variety of treatments.
Fountains Day Spa, 422 South Washington St., Alexandria; 703-549-1990; fountainsdayspa.net.
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Treatment we had: Still Waters Run Deep foot massage and scrub, $70.
What we liked: Aesthetician Adua Falwell placed my feet in a small barrel of hot epsom-salt water, then left me for a few minutes with a warm neck pillow, a warm scented eye pillow, and a drop of lavender oil on my palms. The friendly Falwell then scrubbed my calves and heels with a sugar scrub and gently pressed and kneaded my soles. A choice of herbal tea or water added to the relaxing, hourlong treatment. (Free wine is offered in the evening.)
What you should know: Don’t shave your legs for a few days beforehand or you’ll remember why it hurts to rub salt in a wound. You check in and wait downstairs, then are escorted out and around the building to climb the stairs to the second floor. The blue walls and skyline view are calming but not at all slick; after all, this is earthy Takoma Park. If you leave a message asking for an appointment, you may not hear back for hours.
Bottom line: I left feeling as if I were walking on clouds—even after trudging around again to pay. We also hear that massages by Fanny are terrific.
The Still Point, 7009 Carroll Ave., lower level, Takoma Park; 301-920-0801; stillpointmindandbody.com.
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NOTE: THIS SPA IS NOW CLOSED.
Treatment we had: One-hour deep-tissue massage, $95.
What we liked: In sleepy Winchester lies a hidden gem—Le Papillon Day Resort, a salon and spa that understands the meaning of a day spa. After being greeted by a friendly receptionist, I was led on a tour of the spa—which includes three pedicure chairs with special hygienic drainage systems.
I was escorted to the third level—a roof garden, open in warm weather, occupies the top floor—where there are men’s and women’s locker rooms with steam saunas and thoughtful amenities such as toothbrushes, razors, flatirons, and shower caps.
My wait was brief in the green meditation room—which had tea, water, snacks, current magazines, and iPods—before being called in for my appointment with Theresa, who the receptionist had assured me was the best therapist for a deep-tissue massage.
After a brief consultation, she began. Her strokes were nice and firm—she obviously knew what she was doing. An hour later, Theresa Lesperance showed me several stretches that I could practice at home to help relieve chronic shoulder tension.
What you should know: After steaming and changing, I headed downstairs to the spa’s restaurant—basically an oversize kitchen with a big table—for a four-course lunch, just $25 including wine pairings. Dishes on the changing menu have included seared sea scallops, house-made pasta with spicy tomato sauce, carrot-ginger soup, and chai-infused crème brûlée.
Bottom line: A day spa that lives up its name—I’d be happy spending a day there.
Le Papillon Day Resort, 650 Cedar Creek Grade, Suite 100, Winchester; 540-722-0722; lepapillondayresort.com.
Treatment we had: 50-minute deep-tissue massage, $82.
What we liked: Hair Port, a Sterling salon and spa, offers more than just hair treatments. I booked a deep-tissue massage.
After an initial consultation—during which the therapist questioned my request for deep-tissue by saying that most people don’t need more than a standard massage—we settled into the treatment. The room, which the therapist admitted was cold, housed a simple massage bed, which wasn’t heated on my visit. Halfway through the massage, I asked for a blanket to get rid of my goosebumps. She turned up the space heater.
Exactly 50 minutes later, the treatment ended. I changed and looked for the therapist—during my search, I noticed a small spa waiting area that had water and what looked like freshly baked cookies, but when I finally found my massage therapist, I was ushered out (with a glass of water). The receptionists, friendly at check-in, seemed more concerned with talking to each other than getting payment for my treatment, making for a cold end to a lukewarm massage.
What you should know: This salon does spa treatments in an area separate from the hair stations, with its own door, so you have room to relax. A small changing area with shower and aromatherapy sauna provides room for those who want to relax all day.
Bottom line: The amenities are thoughtful and the treatment nice enough, but unless this is your neighborhood salon, it’s not worth a special trip.
Hair Port, 46 Pidgeon Hill Dr., Sterling, 703-430-3400; hairportltd.com.
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Treatment we had: Greta Garbo facial, $120.
What we liked: Hela is a peaceful, pretty spa, with soft-green walls and a clean-lined Swedish sensibility. The staff was quick to offer me water or tea, and there was a nice selection of magazines to browse—although I didn’t wait long before Amber Meyer came to get me.
Meyer is one of the spa’s most popular aestheticians, and I soon saw one reason why—her delicate strokes, whether she was massaging facial muscles or smoothing on various lotions, were extremely relaxing. Her seeming knowledge of skin and her advice inspired more confidence. I also liked that when I asked her not to mess up my hair too much, she went looking for a different headband that did the trick.
What you should know: While I thought the facial was very good, I found the price—$120 plus tip—a bit high for 50 minutes. The facial included the standard deep cleaning, exfoliation, steaming, extractions, and mask, but nothing extra—no heated hand mitts, no extensive shoulder-and-neck massage—as some spas provide.
Another unfortunate flaw: Sound carries in this small spa. The gentle music in the treatment room could not mask voices in the hall, heavy footfalls, and what sounded like someone washing dishes.
Bottom line: This spa offers a peaceful oasis with a very competent staff. They’re particularly known for facials. But you pay for that expertise.
Hela, 3209 M St., NW; 202-333-4445; helaspa.com.
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Treatment we had: Spa Pedicure, $65.
What we loved: This sleek, white health club/spa with pops of tangerine and cobalt would be at home in Architectural Digest. Upbeat nail technician Sheryl Elliott treats feet and toes with reverence. Her touch is deliberate and ultra-gentle, even when she pumices soles and tidies up cuticles. (She’s a believer in pushing and trims very sparingly.) The pearls-and-mink price includes exfoliation with a gritty lavender-walnut scrub, a heartfelt ten-minute foot massage, a cooling foot mask, and alpha-hydroxy cream on the heels, which made mine smoother than they’ve been since I was 12.
What you should know: The snug nail area—a pedicure chair alongside a manicure table—is in a curtained alcove off the lobby rather than in the low-lit spa upstairs with its chaises, pitchers of orange-scented water, and savory and sweet snacks. Head up there pre- and post-treatment for a more relaxing experience. (The magazines are more interesting, too.) Manicures and pedicures are usually offered only Friday through Sunday. Other treatments such as massages, facials, and waxing are available.
Bottom line: If you have the time and money, this pedicure is gentler and more thorough than most—my hourlong pedicure was closer to an hour and 15 minutes—with every inch of your feet getting expert attention. Elliott has been doing nails for a couple of decades, and it shows.
SomaFit, 2121 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-965-2121; somafit.com.
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Treatment we had: Custom Spa Facial (determined by your skin), $91.
What we loved: Facialist Toni Flora had a lovely touch, and her fluid motions practically put me to sleep. She also kept me well informed about what she was doing and why and about products she was using, all from Bioelements, a line with no artificial dyes or perfumes. Steam, extractions, and an icy mask were part of the experience. So was exfoliation with a slightly grainy scrub made from pulverized pumice, which Flora says doesn’t damage the skin the way larger particles do. My facial was geared toward addressing winter dryness; when it was all over, my skin looked brighter, clearer, and dewier.
What you should know: The original Congressional Plaza outpost in Rockville is smaller and generally busier than the newer Perez Salon & Day Spa in Chevy Chase—and not as sleek. A glass door separates spa from salon, and there’s a very small but cozy lounge area with plush chairs and an earthy brown-and-taupe palette. Rooms are a bit cramped—the treatment table filled most of the room I was in. Though they weren’t pushed, add-ons are available and will up the price.
Bottom line: This is a friendly place that’s more salon than spa, but it’s ideal if you’re after a one-stop shop for hair and a bit of pampering. Despite its size, there’s a vast menu of facials, massage, waxing, makeup, and nail options along with the usual hair services in the salon.
Perez Salon & Spa, Congressional Plaza, 1677 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-881-5052; perezsalonandspa.com.
Treatment we had: Swedish massage, $120 for 50 minutes.
What we loved: Not much has changed other than the name of this serene urban oasis, formerly known as I Spa. Additions include a small boutique and hits of Elizabeth Arden’s signature red: red glass vases on a counter, a textured red rug and red tapestry pillows in the lounge, and red roses on cafe tables where you can order a spa lunch ($25) or one from the hotel’s room-service menu. In warm weather, doors open onto a large patio with chaises and umbrellas for lounging and dining, adding to the getting-away-from-it-all-in-the-middle-of-the-city feel.
Contrasting with the spare white backdrop is a warm, professional staff that always seems at the ready when you need water or a towel.
My Swedish massage began with a couple of deep whiffs of lavender for relaxation. Given a choice between lotion and oil, I opted for the former because I hate sticky post-massage skin. Using smooth, broad strokes, my massage therapist, Susan Groger, paid special attention to neck and shoulders as well as the oft-ignored wrists, ankles, hands, and feet. She pulled my leg to stretch my hamstrings and used her thumbs to work stubborn kinks. At various times, my neck, back, and feet were swathed in warm towels. Enhancing the overall feeling of luxury and comfort were a well-padded and heated massage table and a cashmere-soft, charcoal-gray blanket. Because I had time to linger afterward, I grabbed an apple from the ceramic bowl on the counter and made for the lounge with its tea bar and snacks.
What you should know: At some spas, massage therapists mix it up with a variety of techniques including shiatsu or deep-tissue and Swedish. Red Door’s spa menu is specific, distinguishing between a Swedish and deep-tissue massage, which is a more targeted technique. The spa doesn’t validate parking at the hotel, which runs $16 for up to two hours, $20 for two to four.
Bottom line: More intimate than many hotel spas, this is a luxurious and lovely, though pricey, option. But besides the great service, an added value is the private outdoor patio, which makes the whole experience a relaxing downtown getaway.
Red Door Spa at the Willard InterContinental, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-942-2700; reddoorspas.com.
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Treatment we had: Body massage, $105 for 60 minutes.
What we loved: A bustling hair salon with Aveda products gives way to a subterranean spa with Asian accents—a gong, planters with “lucky bamboo”—as you head downstairs to the spa. Candles bathe spacious treatment rooms in a rosy glow and heated tables and soft blankets add to the cozy feel. My massage therapist alternated between various techniques—the sweeping strokes of Swedish and a technique targeting deeper pressure points. At one point, she twisted my arms into a stretch to work shoulder muscles, borrowing a bit from Thai massage.
What you should know: Other than a couple of hard wooden benches, there isn’t much of a sitting area, and the only sustenance offered is serve-yourself herbal tea. Parking is on the street.
Bottom line: With hair-care, beauty, and spa treatments and even hair ornaments and jewelry for sale for big-night primping, this is a good one-stop spot. Treatment rooms are far away from the hair dryers, and the eco-conscious approach attracts a male as well as female clientele.
Aveda Georgetown, 1325 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-965-1325; avedageorgetown.com.
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Treatment we had: Organic facial, $110.
What we loved: I’ve never walked out of a facial feeling as if I could go anywhere but straight back to my apartment: My dry skin is so sensitive that I usually look blotchy and blemished for the rest of the day. But the organic facial here was different.
Although Lely Tenakhoune, my aesthetician, said that the organic fruit-and-herb-based products by Hungary’s Eminence line can be a little more potent than other skin-care products, she tailored the regimen to keep my skin calm. A rose-imbued cleanser felt immediately relaxing, and she applied a mask made from Tokay grapes—the kind used for ice wine—that she said was full of antioxidants. Extractions were quick—too bad they’re never painless—and Tenakhoune gave me a quick lesson in doing it myself at home. Save for a spiel on the benefits of Retinol, there was no product pushing. Most thoughtfully, when Lily felt knots of tension while giving me a hand-and-arm massage, she finished the facial with a mini-deep-tissue back massage. When the treatment ended, my skin felt dewy and supple.
What you should know: With its eggplant carpeting and brass chandeliers, this feels like someone’s home. The dressing rooms are small—though nicely appointed with Phyto hair products—and the waiting area has just two upholstered chaise longues. In other words, it’s not the best place for lingering.
Bottom line: Although my welcome felt rushed, I was well cared for in the treatment room.
Sugar House Day Spa & Salon, 111 N. Alfred St., Alexandria; 703-549-9940; sugarhousedayspa.com.
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Treatment we had: Tranquil Tuesday 30-minute facial, $49.
What we loved: Unlike at some gym spas, the Spa at Mint feels a world away from the whirring of treadmills and the clang of dumbbells in the adjoining workout area. Bamboo plants, flickering candles, sage-green walls, and abstract art give the space a modern Asian feel.
What you should know: Every Tuesday, the spa offers 30-minute facials and massages for $49. Aesthetician Shirin Rahmataolhi gently cleansed, exfoliated, and rehydrated my skin. After applying each product, she wrapped my face with a warm mint-scented towel, and had time to rub my shoulders, upper back, hands, and arms. Although there wasn’t enough time for extractions, I left feeling relaxed, my skin plump and tingling.
Bottom line: Because this on-the-go facial forgoes extractions, the treatment didn’t irritate my skin. If you live or work near Adams Morgan, the spa’s Tranquil Tuesdays are great for a quick pampering.
The Spa at Mint, 1724 California St., NW; 202-328-6468; mintconditionyourself.com.
—Mary Clare Fleury
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Treatment we had: Deep-tissue massage, $129 for 50 minutes.
What we loved: Spa patrons who book a 50-minute treatment can use the huge and luxurious fitness center—where visiting celebs like George Clooney and Britney Spears have been spotted breaking a sweat. The workout area has rows and rows of sparkling cardio and weight machines as well as a basketball court, pool, and squash courts. The locker room’s sauna and steam room are a great spot to linger after a treatment.
What you should know: Much of my 50-minute treatment was devoted to the knots along my neck and shoulders. Because deep-tissue massages can be painful, my therapist, Kelley McCaleb, explained what she was doing and checked in periodically to make sure the pressure wasn’t uncomfortable. She finished by rubbing my feet and wrapping them in warm towels. I felt rejuvenated—and extremely relaxed.
Bottom line: Resort-like amenities help justify the steep prices at this posh spa.
The Spa at the Sports Club/LA, 1170 22nd St., NW; 202-974-6601; thesportsclubla.com.
—Mary Clare Fleury
Treatment we had: Parisian facial, $95 for 50 minutes.
What we loved: Because of my fair skin, I usually leave facials flushed and blotchy. But my aesthetician, Beysith Lagos, spent a long time examining my face, then tailored the treatment for my easily irritated skin. She talked me through each step, from cleansing and exfoliating to extractions and a creamy fruit-and-oat-based mask at the end. The 50-minute treatment lasted an hour and left my skin soft and smooth.
What you should know: This tiny Georgetown spa is more New Agey than chic. On the second and third floor of an M Street storefront, the spa has a boutique that sells skin-care products and jewelry. Its long menu of services includes waxing, massage, and nail care. You won’t get a plush robe or slippers to put on as you wait, and there’s not much space to linger before or after your treatment.
Bottom line: A small Georgetown spa where the emphasis is on the treatments rather than the amenities.
Qi Spa, 3106 M St., NW, Second Floor; 202-333-6344; qispadc.com.
—Mary Clare Fleury
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Treatment we had: Relâche Signature Massage, $145 for 50 minutes.
What we loved: Decorated in black and white, Relâche is minimalist and modern—think Chanel with a serene Asian sensibility. The locker room is huge, with a sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, and a changing “cabana” off the main locker room where the modest can undress in private. Shelves and cubbies are stocked with everything from plush towels to canisters of hair ties. The coed relaxation lounge has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Potomac River.
What you should know: Since its grand opening in April 2008, Gaylord National, the largest combined non-casino hotel and conference center on the East Coast, has been plagued with problems. My Gaylord experience was no exception. When I called to book my massage, I was put on hold for more than 20 minutes.
On the day of my treatment, I arrived early so I would have time to work out in the fitness center, which is an elevator ride and a five-minute walk away in the basement. After a run on the treadmill, I reached for a cup of water but found an empty water cooler; the front desk was vacant, so there was no one there to ask for help.
Bottom line: A chic—but very pricey—day spa that’s still working through some kinks.
Relâche Spa at Gaylord National, 201 Waterfront St., National Harbor; 301-965-4400; gaylordhotels.com.
—Mary Clare Fleury
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When I pulled into the parking lot in front of Comfort & Joy in Fairfax, I had a moment of apprehension. Two of the stores in the Turnpike Plaza shopping center were closed; large “for lease” signs hung in their windows. The strip mall looked deserted.
Luckily, Comfort & Joy quickly distinguished itself. The front of the larger-than-it-looks-from-the-outside shop was colorful and filled with fragrant soy candles and herbal incense and all manner of nontoxic lotions, massage oils, aromatherapy salves, and organic workout clothing. The mood was warm and welcoming, and I was immediately escorted down the (too) dimly lit hallway into a quiet waiting area.
I was ten minutes early for my manicure-and-pedicure appointment (starting at $65), so I got a cup of chamomile tea and prepared to tuck into the salon’s copy of a recent Vogue. Before I began reading, another waiting customer asked which aesthetician I was waiting for. “If you have Thao, you’ll be so happy,” replied my helpful new pal, who had been enjoying twice-monthly nail visits for almost five years. “She brings my hands and feet back from the dead all the time.”
My pleasant manicurist, Thao Le, quickly appeared and brought me to a small, slightly cluttered room with two pedicure chairs and one manicure station. She explained that all of the salon’s nail polishes, creams, oils, and scrubs were free of the chemicals DBP (dibutyl phthalate), formaldahyde, and toluene—as are all the products used and sold in the salon. That’s a nice, eco-conscious perk, but it rules out the salon out for women who want acrylic nails. The color selection of the SpaRitual and Zoya nail polishes was generous, and I settled into a back-massaging pedicure chair for a very thorough cuticle removal and pumice scrubbing session.
One of the best parts was Thao’s keen sense of how much or little I wanted to chat. She made polite inquiries about my family—how my kids were, where I lived—but was quickly able to tell I was more interested in a bit of quiet time than in gossiping about the latest reality-TV contestant. The manicure went just as smoothly, and I indulged in the chair’s three massage speeds. Thao’s foot, leg, hand, and arm massages left me relaxed and my skin baby-bottom smooth.
Two small quibbles: The nontoxic polish didn’t last quite as long as typical polish—my toes showed signs of wear after only eight days, and my pale-pink fingertips were toast after only four. For such a large spa, the manicure/pedicure room felt too tiny and seemed crammed with products and treatment brochures.
Bottom line: Don’t let the outside deter you. Comfort & Joy is well worth the trip, and its staff will make you feel comfortable and relaxed. The shop’s dedication to organic and toxin-free products is admirable even if you wouldn’t ordinarily go out of your way to find such products.
Comfort & Joy Wellness Spa, 9514-A Main St., Turnpike Shopping Center, Fairfax City; 703-425-8800; comfortjoy.com.
—Jill Hudson Neal
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Treatment we had: The Reykjavik, a 50-minute deep-tissue massage for $120.
What we loved: Hela’s original Georgetown branch has a spare, soothing look; the new Chevy Chase outpost is even sleeker, with blond-wood floors and lots of white surfaces.
When I arrived, I was escorted to a small spa lounge with three low-slung, white leather chairs and offered a cup of tea. Mary Szegda soon came to fetch me for my massage—when I had booked Szegda, the receptionist had blurted out: “She’s wonderful.” Although Szegda works only one day a week in Chevy Chase, she also takes appointments in Georgetown.
Szegda was expert in her strokes, happening upon all of my kinks and frequently checking to make sure the pressure was okay. It was a good therapeutic massage.
What you should know: Hela bills itself as a medical spa, with physicians on staff. It offers a range of services from regular facials to Botox. Perhaps for that reason, every treatment I’ve gotten at Hela—including the massage in Chevy Chase and two facials in Georgetown—was more clinical than soothing. They also seem a bit pricey.
Bottom line: If you like spas with a modern, sleek vibe, you may like the new Chevy Chase Hela. This is a good choice if you like competent staff and don’t mind paying for that expertise—we hear Terrie Thomas is a good aesthetician in Chevy Chase. It’s also best if you like to get in and out of a spa instead of lingering after an appointment.
Hela Spa, 5481 Wisconsin Ave., Second Floor, Chevy Chase; 301-951-4445; helaspa.com.